Donna Bernstein is an equestrian artist originally from NY, but has spent her recent years between the mountains of Idaho and the deserts of Arizona. Unlike so many equestrian artists, Donna was not a rider and horse owner growing up, but was inspired by the horse as an object of energy, life and beauty. She took her inspiration from books, television, and neighboring horses. Donna became a professional artist only after many years working in real estate and advertising, but it is a natural fit for her. Her Horses have a Life and Energy that leaps off the page and her ability to portray the Horse in that manner has allowed her to become a very popular artist with equestrians and non-equestrian art collectors alike.
How did you become an artist? What is your story.
I became an artist by accident, of sorts. As a young girl of course I was infatuated…but since I was not a rider and did not have horses I took to drawing them to creating my vision and fulfilling my dream of them. When a neighbor got a horse, or I saw one in a nearby field, I would sit for hours watching them…observing every vital detail…not drawing while I was watching…afraid I would miss something, especially as my time with them was limited.
As it turns out I was right – by not drawing at that time I truly saw them… every nuance, move and and attitude. Then I continued to learn about them from books (our local librarian saved every new horse book for me when it came in!), their anatomy, illnesses and cures, and as I earned to ride from books and watching riders on TV. I created my drawings and paintings full of the vision, imagination, and love I had for them, which has truly defined my signature artistic style. I realize now that I am painting those horses; the horses I never had.
Is creating art your day job?
Yes, it is my day job!
I spent my early professional career in real estate and advertising, but I had been drawing and painting horses since a child. I never really expected to be a professional artist. When we moved from New York to Idaho (as an adult later in life), I re-connected to my artistic energies, and the rest is history.
What is your favorite medium to work in and why?
Probably plain black ink. Simple, clean, elusive and stylish. Most commonly my works are composed of mixing mediums, which I absolutely love, to break the painting rules. I love to experience the creativity of birthing something new.
Do you have any artists that have really inspired your work?
Classical ones, like Rosa Bonheur, Degas, Monet, Picasso, Matisse, Chagall.
More contemporary artists like O’Keefe, Joan Mitchell, Paul Brown, Deborah Butterfield.
I love being able to see original great works, be up close to them, see and feel the strokes on the canvas or paper; experience the artists’ work.
Do you prefer to work large or small or somewhere in the middle?
In that regard I am all over the park and happy at any size. Although Horses do seem to get larger no matter what. They are big restless animals and they carry a lot of energy. They seem to get bigger on me without even trying, which then becomes a rather athletic endeavor to paint! When you are my size and are working on a 5×8’ or larger canvas, it’s physical! But horses are physical, and the movement I experience in doing the work carries into the piece I believe. I feel my horses move beyond the canvas, filling the available space, which actually is a more intimate position, or point of view. I am not looking at them from afar; I am sharing them with you in a close and personal space. Which is why they often run off the page. Horses are Big Energy, and that is what I paint.
How did the horse become your primary subject?
I was told once that horses chose me, and that my horses exist somewhere between heaven and earth. I was told my work is not a picture of a horse, but that they express “what horse-ness is.” My horses are stylized and imaginative, abstract and sometimes whimsical, expressing the all-encompassing energy of the horse, which is inspirational for me. Their joy for life, sense of companionship and family “herd” nature, with a willingness to work combined with beauty, sensuality, freedom – they exude the values I enjoy in life. I have found that most of my collectors are not necessarily “horse people” – but art lovers. In this way I also learned “That it is not horses that I paint – I paint the way they make me feel.” And that is a different kind of painting.
How did you develop your current style?
Trial and error and thousands of drawings later and watching the horse himself and pure love.
What is your history with horses? Tell me a little bit about the most important horses in your life.
My neighbor got a horse when I was about 13 so I started to experience them in real life at that time. I had a horse for a couple years in high school with a friend, and tried to do more riding. I loved trail riding and jumping! So those horses were always special.
Now as an adult, I treated myself to joining an all-female Thoroughbred horse racing syndicate based in NY. Horse racing was always a dream of mine. I always wanted to be a jockey! I think I would have been a good one – now I know it is a crazy dangerous sport… but a beautiful one. I love how people from all walks of life – with no horse interest at all – but when they watch a horse run or a special race, it raises everyone to their feet! That’s what horses do for us. They lift us up – literally and figuratively- to their backs or to our dreams.
What is your favorite part of your being an artist?
One of my favorite parts is the actual creation – seeing something come to fruition – having a vision come to life which might look nothing like I first expected it to yet in feeling is absolutely what I were trying to express.
The creative act is truly and unknown. The art you create is largely you.
Tell me a bit about your other products (jewelry, scarves, etc). How did you branch into selling those?
My ideas run big and I am probably a bit hyper so rather than just doing one thing I do many. My works lend themselves to fashion and design, which are also interests of mine. Colors palettes, patterns, home decor, outfits – putting together a cohesive look. So the Donna B Brand seemed a natural way to build upon the evolving feel of my art.
Do you have any plans for any upcoming shows or competitions readers can see your work in person?
My next show begins 8/25 at The White Room Gallery in Bridgehampton, NY and further upcoming shows and galleries are listed on my website.
Interested parties can call or email me at any time! I love creating commissioned/bespoke pieces both for clients directly and through working with designers. Reach out at any time and I am happy to create your dream horse for you!!